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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  January 30, 2015 12:00am-1:01am PST

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>> rose: welcome to the program. we begin this evening with larry summers the former secretary of the treasury principal economic advisor to president obama and also former harvard university president. the subject the global economy. >> what's really happened is that the-- we are on our way to being the new saudi arabia. that our growth in energy supply is what's changed the fundamental balance. and that's why the price of oil is now-- has now fallen. whether it can stay this low i think is very much -- for a very long time is very much in doubt. but the price of oil really has fall en. that's going to put a hundred 200 billion in consumers' pockets which they're going to spend. it's a very good thing. but we need an agenda that goes with it. if ever there was a right
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moment to put carbon taxes on for the long run global climate it's a moment when the price of gasoline is lower than people ever thought it would be. if ever there was a right moment to put a gasoline tax in place to fund the infrastructure investments that we were talking about this has got to be an extraordinary time. >> rose: we conclude with ayad akhtarred pummitieser pummitieser-- pulitzer prize winning playwright whose play "disgrace" is now on broadway. >> i have had three plays about a muslim identity and a book, all of that subject-- work i wrote or was inspired to write six, seven years ago and have been working, have gotten through first drafts basically about five years ago. so it's interesting that you know what's coming out now, a lot of times people say it feels like it's ripped from the headlines.
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i don't know that that is the case. it's in dialogue, i think that the world is evolving out there. >> rose: larry summers and ayad akhtar when we continue. funding for charlie rose is provided by the following: >> rose: funding for "charlie rose" has been provided by: >> rose: additional funding provided by: >> and by bloomberg, a provider of multimedia news and information services worldwide. captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city this is charlie rose. >> rose: larry summers is here. he's president emeritus of harvard university, he served as treasury secretary under president clinton and
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director of president obama's national economic council. last week the ecb said it would buy more than $1 trillion of assets to boost inflation in europe that had been struggling for areas with a debt crisis. on wednesday the federal reserve signaled it would not raise short-term interest rates any earlier than june. i am pleased to have larry summers back at this table. welcome. >> good to be with you charlie. >> rose: you were at davos. i was there. you were on panels. i did a couple of interviews, what was the sense of all these politicians and businesspeople and academicians and ngos about the economy and about the state of the world. because the theme was said to be the context. >> charlie, it was something intermediate. it certainly wasn't euphoric but it certainly wasn't as dark as it was in 2009 or 2010 at the height of the financial crisis. i think there is a growing
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concern about a deflationary psychology a sense of stagnation of very very almost path logically low-interest rates taking hold in many many places. there was an undertow of concern. i think people admired enormously what mario draggy did but they admired it more than they were confident that it would be sufficient to solve europe's very profound problems. >> rose: as i understand it, that's your position too. >> that is what i-- that is what a believe. i think people were also not 100 percent certain about anyplace outside of the united states, and they weren't 100 percent certain about the u.s. growth prospect, though they felt better about that than they did any other place. but i guess they asked the
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same question that ironically i asked during the time i was treasury secretary in the '90s. how long can the world economy continue to fly on a single american engine. and the answer, when i asked it is it didn't end up flying that much longer. we headed into recession in 2000 and 2001. and we have to be mindful of that. i think we are in uncharted territory economically. >> rose: driven by the lack of demand the lack of -- >> the problem today is the lack of demand, not the lack of supply. the problem today is that inflation is too low not that inflation is too high. the problem today is not that central banks are being too activist it's that they may have trouble being act vises enough. the problem today is that there is too much savings and too little spending too
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little investment. so it's a very different world than we are used to. >> rose: give us an economic professor's understanding of the threat of inflation and deflation or the lack of inflation. >> the usual view, what would have been most of what we would have taught our students until a few years ago would have been about inflation charlie. and it would have been that when prices were rising rapidly, it was harder to keep track of things that interest rates were much higher and because interest rates were much higher people wasted a lot of effort making sure that they had funds earning interest and the like. that just like it really wasn't do for a yard to be 36 inches long one year and 38 inches the next.
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having the price level rising at a rapid and changing rate just made it much harder for anybody to think and plan. and so we were best off avoiding inflation. and that if we just committed and were credible and strong against inflation that we could avoid it. the problem, there was really no good that came of inflation, but that it was always tempting because in the short run you could boost the economy a bit with inflation. but then it all caught up with you. >> rose: that's not the opinion today? >> people still feel that way about inflation about if we had the problem of potentially high inflation they would still have that view. but we're in a different world. the whole institution of independent central banks and all of that was conceived to prevent too much inflation. today our problem is that we don't have enough inflation. you know you can look by looking at what are called index bonds bonds linked to
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the cpi you can get a market measure of expected inflation. and if you look at europe, you look at japan, or you look at the united states inflation is expected to be below the 2% target not just right now not just a couple of years from now but because 2020 and 2025. so the problem is that we've got inflation at too low a level and because we've got inflation at too low a level and because in europe and in japan deflation is still a continuing issue-- . >> rose: and what is deflation. >> deflation is when prices are falling. and there's another thing which you might call low-flation which is when prices are rising but they are rising slower than the 2% a year. >> rose: when you talk about the price of things we're talking about markets for commodities? are we talking about financial markets we're
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talking about the price of wage-- i mean price of products and wages? >> when economists or in this context talk about inflation, they're talking about the price of everything people buy. so it's the price of a dining room table it's the price of a shirt. >> rose: food. >> it's the price of food. but it's also the price of taking the bus the price of taking-- the price of taking a vacation the fees associated with getting a bank account the fees associated with sending your kid to college or going to the hospital. but it's not the price of buying a stock cuz that's different. and it's not the wage rate. it's the generalized price level. >> rose: commodities expect what you buy -- >> the price of commodities is obviously a very important input to that. but when you have a situation where prices are
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falling then people say to themselves, why should i buy something now it's going to be cheaper next year. so you get a negative psychology where people don't spend because they think things are going to be cheaper next year. and because they don't spend the-- there's enormous pressure to reduce prices. and the more prices are being reduced the more people don't spend. and you get a negative kind of psychology. and it can be a kind of trap that an economy can fall in. related related in terms of the costs of deflation in any economies there's some people who borrow money. and there are some people who lend money. it tends to be richer people who lend money and poorer people who borrow money. it tends to be people who are more in need who borrow money. when the-- when prices are falling or when there isn't the inflation that was expected, then what happens
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is the borrowers are getting poorer cuz they're having to pay more valuable dollars than they expected. and the creditors are getting richer. well, that also operates to reduce spending and cause economic contraction. it also operates to be taking from people who are more in need and giving to people who are less in need. it also makes bankruptcies more likely because it's easier to pay back in dollars that are getting less and less valuable than in dollars that are getting more and more valuable. that's why these phenomenon of deflation and low flation are so potentially toxic. and they don't just make the economy function a little less well they run the risk of creating a situation where there isn't enough spending and there isn't enough demand and there are too many problems in finance for the economy to be able
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to employ everybody or produce as much as it could. that's what we have seen for years now. >> rose: i want to get to a number of things. you and ed boulles were at the centre for american progress i think, and talked about inclusive prosperity committee or commission or something like that, commission was it? >> commission, yes. >> rose: and the conclusion was sustained increases in wages and living standards are essential. >> that's right. we were convened by niratanden and the center for american progress to think about progressive agendas to address common challenges like globalization like technology that are applying not just in the united states but are applying around the world. and it was an effort to build on the kind of discussions that had taken place globally in the 1990s
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under the auspices of president clinton and then british prime minister tony blair. i think the biggest difference between then and now is the centrality of inequality as something that is effecting the middle class and affecting the prospects for middle class growth. think about this. if the income distribution of the united states were the same as it was in 1979 there would be a trillion dollars more in the hands of the lower 80%. >> rose: a trillion dollars. >> a trillion $1 trillion or 11,000 per family in the hands of the bottom 80% of the population. and there would be a trillion dollars less in the hands of the top 1% largely the top 1% the other 19% isn't changed very much. and that would be $750,000 less on average per family for them.
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so there's been a big redistribution that has worked to the detriment of the middle class and unfortunately, at the same time we've made that worse for the middle class with a set of changes that have come in. we have less progressive taxation than we did then. we're investing much less in the public sector than we did then. we have much less in the way of protections that strengthen worker rights as we move to a kind of task rabbit economy where people just get hired for a few hours without benefits to perform tasks where the union movement has not been supported as strongly as it could have been. so there have been a variety of changes that go beyond the financial crisis that have exacerbated the inequality and exacerbated the lack of growth. an that's what we call for.
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we stress and this is really an important point because i think that some people tend to be fatallistic about this. and i think that's really very wrong. that will are countries canada and australia are two good examples that by focusing on these basic investments by empowering workers by strengthening education have-- by healthy regulatory and other mechanisms have succeeded in having rising standards of living for the middle class in a way that we or great britain have been much less successful. >> rose: should we copy what they did? >> we shouldn't copy, every country has to pursue its own approach. we laid out a comprehensive agenda. i talked about a number of things. public investment closing a whole range of tax shelters, investing more as part of the infrastructure investment in environmental protection strengthening worker rights and worker
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benefits. look on the infrastructure, you have probably heard me say this before. if a moment when we can borrow money at 1.7 percent for ten years in a currency we print ourselves if that is not the moment to invest in making laguardia airport look like it should, i don't know when that moment will ever come. and there are lots of example. let me just give you one other because it really struck me. i have been using that example about kennedy and laguardia airport for a while. eventually the guy from the port authority in charge called me and we discussed the plans they had to fix it and so forth. but then he said something that was right. he said you know, the real outrage is the air-traffic control system. we in the united states have an air-traffic control system that is based on vacuum tubes like the old-fashioned television sets. and as a consequence it
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doesn't have enough capacity for all the flights. and so sometimes they use yellow stickies to keep track of all the flights. apart from the fact that it doesn't make me feel so safe and i suspect it doesn't make you feel so safe it means that less flights can fly. it means there's more circling the airport which wastes energy and eventually they're not trained any new 25-year-olds who can fix vacuum tube technologies. so eventually the people who know how to make this work are going to retire and move on. so we've got a lot of fundamental infrastructure investments that we need to make. and making them is a major source of middle class jobs. and so this is something that increases demand. that puts people to work. that increases the supply potential of the economy and finally that takes a big burden off our children. because this idea that when
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we borrow money that's burdening our children. but that if we defer maintenance and allow the government to run down that's just good public policy. that just really doesn't make any sense. deferring maintenance is just a burden on our children. it's repressing a deficit. and it's just as much a burden on our children as borrowing money. >> get to these points. what's the consequence of not doing something about income inequality. >> if you look at the public opinion polls charlie you find that confidence in almost every institution has gone way down. >> sure. >> and i think that at its root that is because most people see that their incomes arbts going up very fast if at all. that they don't have confidence that their children are going to live better lives than they did. and that they are able to see that a very small group seems to be getting a very large fraction of the economic growth.
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>> rose: which breeds a sense of unfairness which therefore creates social tension. >> resentiment, unfairness lack of confidence in institutions. and i think we get caught in a cycle that's really very-- really very problematic. which is people lose confidence in government and business. because they lose confidence in government and business, they make it much harder for government and business to do anything. then when they don't do anything, they lose more confidence in them. and the whole thing cycles. so here is another way of thinking about it. john kennedy in 1896-- 1960 was able to famously ask people, ask not what you can do-- what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country. but that was after the country had delivered 3% a year increase in living standards since the second world war. that was after the inner state highway system had been built. that was after the fha had
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created the suburbs. that was after the gi bill had sent generation to work. and so the government could call on its citizens because the country had delivered for its middle class. if the country doesn't deliver for its middle class it becomes much harder for it to call on its middle class whether it's to protect the environment whether it's in response to a national security concern. whether it's to look out for the poor which is obviously a continuing issue for us. it degrades ultimately the character of our democracy because at least my conviction has always been and i think the difficulties that latin america has had in particular illustrate this. that in abe lincoln's famous
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phrase, government-- democracy doesn't just mean government by the people it has to mean government for the people. and the way people judge that is by what's happening to them in their ode lives. and when they don't feel like they're being protected from large forces that is when they become disillusioned. so i don't think there's any more important issue. >> rose: how dow create a economy that is better for the middle class. how do you create a economy that creates job. how do you create an economy that enables people to have a better tomorrow than yesterday? >> i think there's a broad agreement that that's the end. i think there's still some disagreement frankly about whether framing it that way is really our highest economic priority. you would find many people who would say that our highest economic priority is to contain growth in government debt. you would find --
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>> but-- and that is a perspective. i didn't think that-- i think our chances of controlling government debt are much greater if we're able to grow incomes for the middle class. >> rose: the way to deal with debt and deficit is growth. >> is growth. and that continues. >> rose: your argument has been when deficit hawks were blue in the face that was your argument. >> that was my argument at that time. and it has end tended to bear that out. >> rose: especially with terms of deficit. >> that is exactly right. the only reason i raise that is to say that yes there's now a very large number of voices who are talking about the importance of the mid em class and recognizing inequality. yes it is not universal but it's there i agree with you. >> rose: and secondly it will be probably central to the 2016 political campaign. >> i think most likely i'm an economist, not a politician, but i think most likely that's right. >> rose: three things. number one oil and energy
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the new equation in oil and energy. you and other people now say it's a perfect time for a carbon tax. but what the impact of shale oil and the action of saudi arabia in driving down the price of energy. >> a fantastic thing has happened. what's really happened is that we are on our way to being the newer saudi arabia. that our growth in energy supply is what's changed the fundamental balance. and that's why the price of oil is now-- has now fallen. whether it can stay this low i think, is very much for a very long time is very much in doubt. but the price of oil oil really has fallen. that's going to put a hundred 200 billion in consumers' pockets, which they're going to spend. it's a very good thing. but we need an agenda that goes with it. if ever there was a right
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moment to put carbon taxes on for the long run global climate it's a moment when the price of gasoline is lower than people ever thought it would be. if ever there was a right moment to put a gasoline tax in place to fund the infrastructure investments that we were talking about, this has got to be an extraordinary time. if if ever there was a right moment to eliminate what restrictions that made sense we would put restrictions in in the 70s charlie when we had price controls on oil. we didn't want people to avoid the restrictions by exporting oil. that made sense then. right now it makes no sense to say that the united states can export gasoline. but that the united states can't export crude oil. that makes no sense. if we allowed the united states to export crude oil ironically the result would be lower gasoline prices
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because the oil right now gets struck in texas. and, in fact gasoline prices in most of the country are tied to what's called the brent price of oil, the world benchmark. and if we allowed oil to be exported then there would be more in the world market which would reduce the price in the world market. and so would operate to reduce the price of gasoline. plus it would-- plus it would create jobs encouraging energy production in the united states. so part of the right response in addition to carbon taxes, in addition to gasoline taxes is an emphasis on freeing up restrictions for export and then we need to make sure that we regulate fracking and other new technologies
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in a rigorous way. but we need to figure out how to regulate rigorously and also regulate quickly. and we tended to have some trouble doing that in this country. and we delay things too long and that too is a serious problem. but there is a huge opportunity before us. >> rose: so where do you come down on the keystone pipeline? >> don't pitch give me an answer. >> i've been an advocate of the keystone pipeline for the last couple of years. >> rose: does anything cause to you change your mind? >> nothing's happened to change my mind. what i'm not sure of is in the current economic realities whether it any longer makes any economic sense given the other investments that canada has made given the changes in the world oil market i'm not sure that it's economic to build the keystone pipeline. but i have supported the keystone pipeline because i believed that shipping oil
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around on trucks and on trains is a 20th century technology, and not the last third of the 20th century. and that we need a satz frakt other pipeline infrastructure. and that the keystone pipeline is one part of that. i don't think people who think that it's the be all of a u.s. economic development strategy are right. but i wish that we had gotten on with it. >> rose: this is today's "the wall street journal," journal,"-- flags, rate hike,ed any year or later, that's june of next year before there will be any increase in interest rate. do you agree with the decision of the fed and janet yellen in this case? in which he said -- >> i believe the fed should not raise interest rates should should not raise rates until and unless there is clear evidence of rising inflation. whatever happens to the real economy. and i don't think we have yet seen any evidence of
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rising inflation. if anything the evidence is pointing to and over the medium term a reduction in the rate of inflation. but janet yellin is right to say that it all has to hinge on the data. and we'll see the data as it comes. she's right to say that the fed is going to be flexible and respond as events come. >> okay do you read the data different than she reads the data? >> i don't know. at this moment i think both of us read the data the same way which is that at this moment the interest rate is in the right place. and i'm not sure how the fed will read the data as it comes. where i would differ in emphasis from plane people is i wouldn't raise interest rates because i thought the economy was overheating because it had grown fast. i want to see the proof in
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what's happening to inflation before it would be appropriate to raise rates. and if i can just say the reason i think that is that if we let the price-- we let inflation rise slightly that's a problem we've seen before. that's a problem we know how to control. it's not even clear how big a problem it is. on the other hand, if we allow deflation to happen that's potentially catastrophic. and that would be where i would be avoiding risk. >> rose: deflation. >> on the side of deflation on the side of excessively low inflation that would be the thing i would be most worried about. >> rose: greece had an election. we don't know exactly what the new coalition government will do, an interesting coalition between right and left. both with certain nationalistic fervour. suppose they say we demand you renegotiate the debt. what do you think you know these people what do you think the central bank-- what do you think the germans will say? what do you think other
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members of the eurozone will say? and what should they say? >> i've been critical of the germans for imposing too much austerity on the rest of europe, for not providing enough stimulus for europe. >> rose: and you think you're right on that, have you been proven right on that? >> and i think the evidence has tended to bear me out. that said there's only so much load that can be carried. there's-- the greeks are making a case for adjustments at least in how much they have to pay on the debt for the next few years. and i actually think they have a quite strong case on that. they're making a case-- . >> rose: you think they have a case to as to carrying too much debt. >> that they're being asked to make too much debt payments for the next few years. >> rose: because they are doing things to their economy -- >> it will hurt their economy slow down the growth. on the other hand, the greeks have a lot of
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demands. that's one area of demands. they've got another area of demands around slowing up or eliminating privatization. another area of demands on having a large amount of new spending. another area of demands on rejecting eu policy as far as sanctions toward russia are concerned. and i think that the greeks can't expect there to be flexibility on all of these demands. >> rose: and you think in the end -- >> i think the most important dimension for there to be flexibility is debt payments over the next three or four years. i don't think it makes very much difference whether we declare now that the debt is due in 2029 or whether we reduce the debt. i think what does make the difference is how much we insist that the greeks pay over the next few years. and i think the amount that they would be asked to pay under current arrangements probably is not very reasonable. >> rose: it's a serious
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mistake for the eurozone to break up or for one country to leave grease in particular. >> it was a mistake to form the eurozone. >> rose: because. >> because it's too brittle a system to try to do it with no political union no migration, no common fiscal policy no common banking policy. but having done it it would be, i think a very very risky act if any part of the euro system were to dissolve. >> rose: we don't know the results of the fourth quarter for 2014. we know what they were for the third quarter. 5% gdp growth. do you think we'll ever be back to that on an annual basis? >> i don't see it in any foreseeable horizon. >> rose: four percent? >> it's going to be awhile. >> rose: three percent annually? >> yes, we will see-- close to 50% chance that we will see three percent this year and or next year. >> rose: and or next year. >> yeah.
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that's-- i mean part of it is that we have a much more slowly growing adult population than we used to. part of it is for many years we had a big tailwind from more and more women going to work. and now that's largely exhausted itself and the women are actually going to work in slightly smaller numbers. part of it is and this is what is hardest to judge we're not seeing as much increase in productivity in recent years as we've seen at some point in the past. >> rose: is this an argument you and mark an creasean have. >> i don't know that mark and i have any very big-- very fundamental disagreement. i think both-- we both think that technology is enormously important and consequently. he's a bit more serene that
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it's going to somehow involve jobs and opportunities and work out for everybody. and i'm confident it's going to work out very well for people like you and i charlie, for people like mark and i'm more worried about the consequences for people whose jobs are going to be less sumented than replaced by what technology is going to generate. and i think technology is making it harder to measure what the gdp is and what growth is. you know it really is phenomenonly better to be able to choose between tens of thousands of bits of entertainment at home. than it was to watch three channels. but we don't have good ways of measuring that. i always think back to the fact that the automobile only made it into the consumer price index as a product in 1935.
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20 years after henry ford. and i'm sure people are going to look at this moment and they're going to be able to point up some more kinds of anomalies. >> rose: i'm sure there are many other things i need to talk about but i have no more time. >> charlie good to be with you. >> rose: larry summers. back in a moment stay with us. >> ayad akhtar is here he is a screenwriter playwright actor and novelist. his play "disgraced" won the 2013 pulitzer prize for drama. it is currently on broadway. it follows a successful muslim american lawyer who must come to terms with his roots. charles-- of "the new york times" calls it a vitally engaged play about thorny questions of identity and religion in the contemporary world. i'm pleased to have ayad akhtar at this table for the first time. welcome. >> thank you. >> rose: it's a pleasure. >> the pleasure is mine. >> rose: you could not be more timely, don't you
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agree? >> you know it's interesting-- . >> rose: you started in 2000 -- >> the play yeah a lot of the work that has come out, i had three plays in new york this year all dealing with questions of muslim american, or muslim western identity in a novel which came out three years ago, similar subject matter. all of that work i wrote or was inspired to write six seven years ago. and have been working have gotten through first drafts basically by five years ago. and so it's interesting that you know what is coming out now, a lot of times people say it feels like it's ripped from the headlines. i don't know that that is the case. it's in dialogue, i think the world is evolving out there. >> rose: you're absolutely right. it's both, really but especially now it seems to me that i've seen all of these kinds of conversations. you know, that the people without do the most obscene violence in the name of islam are kidnapping religion.
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i've seen people who are heads of state and muslims who say to me i'm not a moderate muslim i'm a muslim. anybody who acts as those, speaking of isis, for example they're not muslim. because they are, you know they represent something that is not part of islam. and then now you are having people who-- tom freedman and others saying that there is a conversation taking place within islam. >> right. >> rose: as to asking questions as to why did we get to this point. >> yeah. and i think that's what the work is about. it's about the individual living in the world today as muslims as they define themselves as muslims, as they define themselves as nonmuslims as people who walked away from their heritage. and how never's grappling with the matter how they make sense of their own experience given their muslim heritage. and in some cases there are no contradictions.
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part of the you know difficulty of the conversation that is becoming mainstream now is i think people want to have some sort of blanket or unipolar response to what is the muslim experience. or what is the muslim american experience. what does islam mean. or is the koran violent or any of those. there is no simple answer to any of those questions. people are not reading scripture in a vacuum. they're bringing their own lives their histories their personalities their psychologies. and as an artist, that is what i am focused on is on characters, on the narratives of those characters. >> rose: i want to come back to your play. but two things, one i love this at the beginning of the play, on reading plays plays on the page are neither fish no nor foul t is seldom meant to be read t meant to be poured over interrogated a play is a blueprint, a workman's plan from a a group of artists and must contain the seeds of inspiration, the insinuation of truth that will spirit the actors directors and to tell the
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play write's chosen tale. the process that began is not the encounter with an individual reader in the privacy of a moment but rather the boisterous and public encounter with a living audience an act of collective hearing and seeing that is at the root of the theater's timeless and ritual magic. i love that. because that's what it is about isn't it. >> exactly. i think that the theater at its best it connects us to our ritual origins. it reenacts a situation of presence. the presence of the audience. the presence of the performers who in a way stand in for a kind of presence of religious rights performers. and this transfer of energy that can happen when a narrative story is happening in that situation, can reach down into us more deeply than i think any other form of storytelling. i mean you see the bad examples of sort of collective experience, collective emotion and mob
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mentallities and what not. but there is another pole to that. there is a kind of ecstatic reflective profound galvanizing force that the theater can bring into being. i think in ways that no other art form request at its best. >> rose: how do you write plays? >> good question. you know i came to writing plays late. i studied theater in college and i have taught acting a good part of my life. i have been an acker. i have been around playwrights and directors. i have been fascinated by the process but i really spent a lot of time writing proceeds fiction and screenplays. when it came to writing plays, i had so much experience of the process of being an actor working with actors and listening to actors and understanding as an actor how i would approach character, that when i started writing plays it was very unself-conscious in a way. i started listening to the characters like for example with disgraced i started listening to this character amir.
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as faulkner once said all i do is follow my characters around and write down what they say. and so that's what i did. >> rose: it's truly the way it is. >> in my case as a playwright, yes. that is the first part of the process. you get a draft. and that draft you start sharing with actors. and you have a director. and you begin to work around a table. and then you-- the play begins to reveal things to you in terms of its form. and form, there is a lot of wisdom in form. when you understand the nature of the story you're trying to tell or the story that wishes too be told a lot of times that will guide you by itself. and there will be a kind of group knowing when a moment isn't working or doesn't feel organic or feels like it was perhaps necessary for another version of this idea. so it's a process. and that constant process another part of the process a essential part of the process is sharing it with an audience. i have found in my own experience that i don't actually know what it is i've done until i see it for the first time in front of an audience. which is why a first premier
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of a play is often just a part of the rehearsal process actually the second production is when i know that it's right. >> rose: take me to amir and tell me who he is. >> amir-- amir capur has changed its name. it used to be amir abdullah. he is a corporate attorney working in mergers and acquisitions at a boutique m & a firm here in new york. his bosses are both jewish. and he is-- he's got that corporate chain. he has that you know, that-- . >> rose: he knows the game. >> he knows the game or thinks he does. and he's very good at his job. and he in the wake of 9/11 and the sort of truckulant political-- around being muslim has decided to take it into his hands to change his identity change his social security number and represent himself as indian not of pakistani origin but
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of indian origin. and over the course of the play, this begins to emerge. and at the merges in ways that make his colleagues at work think that he is doing this in ways that are due police to us. and he has a kind of-- the center piece of the play say dinner party where one of his colleagues from work has come to dinner with his husband. and amir is with his wife. and amir's life basically unravels over the course of the dinner party where there is a little too much drinking and he had has had a day at work where it looks like people are pushing him out of his job. >> rose: a couple pliks -- >> even if are you one of those-- muslims tipping your scotch alongside your beautiful wife american wife watching the news and seeing folks in the middle east dying for value that you were taught were pure and stricter and truer you can't help but feel just a
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little bit of pride. >> pride? >> yes! pride. >> did you feel pride on september 11th? >> if i am honest yes. >> amir. you don't really mean that. >> i was horrified by it, all right absolutely horrified. >> horrified about what, about the towers coming down about people getting killed. >> that we were finally winning. >> we? >> yes. you see i forgot which we i was. >> you're an american. >> it's tribal. it's in the bones. you have no idea how i was brought up. you have to work real hard to root that-- out. >> well you need to keep working. >> i am. >> rose: when you have a line like that and you and i both laughed here. >> yeah. >> rose: do you know it when
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you write it? >> no no. i think that that-- you know mike nichols the great late mike nichols once said that the hero of the story is the character with the most jokes. because the character who gives the audience the most pleasure is the one that we will most naturally identify with. and so as a writer i'm always on the lookout for writing good jokes for all my characters. and in a way one of my principleses is to have them competing for jokes. it's a way to keep the audience engaged and absorbed. >> rose: and entertained. >> and entertained. but i think if you are too aware of writing a joke then it often ends up not being as funny. there is something about the quickness of the wit, it has to sort of just come from the previous thing. and a lot of times those discovers happen in the rehearsal room. >> rose: when he talks about the tribalism, what is he talking about? the tribalism of nation, the tribalism of religion? the tribalism of ethnicity?
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>> whatever whatever-- whatever-- whatever that identity is that-- you know i believe on "60 minutes," i don't know, maybe a year ago there was a study about children of infants and newborn-- not newborns but infants. and tendencies of identification with tribe at that early age. i think there's something in us as human beings where whether it's a holdover of a different time where membership in a group was necessary to our survival whatever it is. but it deeply engrained in us. and i think that as we continue to evolve in a-- you know multicultural world, being mindful of the fact that tribal tendencies exist in all of us is important. and so what he's talking about in that case has to do with his background and how he was brought up with a kind of in a family and in a community that had an oppositional to the west
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identity which is you know a pole of muslim identity or has been for the last 200 years. >> rose: why dow call it disgraced? >> at the end of the play amir's nephew delivers a monologue in which he says you know i will just read it actually. it will be a lot easier. he has witnessed his uncles sort of disintegration. and his uncle's inability to find a place. and he-- so he says-- the nephew says about the west, for 300 years they've been taking our land, drawing new borders replacing our laws making us want to be like them, look like them marry their women. they disgraced us. they disgraced us. and then they pretend they don't understand the rage we've got.
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>> rose: some have said this is highly crit calf islam is it? or is it highly critical of something else? >> well, i think that amir has a strong critique of what he calls the islamist mythos in the play. i don't know that the play itself is critical of islam. i think that the play-- the play is a space that offers or creates a kind of expansiveness where multiple points of view about the question of islam. i mean-- can coexist. the matter of this conversation that is happening in the world today about is islam the problem is actually the dramatic circumstances of the play. so it is not coming to a conclusion about that. it's staging our own relationship to this question which, and hopefully by doing so reflecting something about ourselves. >> i want to see another clip. roll tape a conflict between amir and isaac. >> i'm sure it's not all
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that dichb than how you feel about israel sometimes. >> excuse me? >> are you telling me you have never felt anything like that? the unexpected blush of -- >> pride no, no i don't feel anything like a blush. >> when you hear about israel throwing its military weight around. >> i'm critical of israel. a lot of jews are. >> and when you hear about ahmadinejad talk about wiping israel into the mediterranean how do you feel then? >> outrage like anybody else. >> not everyone feels outrage. a lot of folks like hearing that. >> do you like hearing that? >> i said a lot of folks. >> no, i asked if you like hearing that. do you like hearing about israel getting wiped into the ocean. >> isaac. >> no, no, no. i want to know. >> sometimes, yes. >> amir, we're supposed to be celebrating. >> and i'm saying that it's wrong and that it comes from somewhere. and that somewhere is islam. >> no [bleep] it's wrong but it doesn't come from islam,
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it comes from you. islam has no monopoly on fundamentalism f doesn't come from a text. >> you don't need to patronize me. >> you have been patronizing me this whole conversation. i think you can bear being patronized just a bit. you don't like organized religion fine, you have a particular affinity to the one you were born into, fine. you maybe feel a little more-- strongly than most of us because of whatever fine. but i'm nod interested in your absurd and frankly more than a little terrifying generalization. >> isaac. >> what! >> stop it. >> okay. >> tell me what i just saw. >> well isaac is who is the curator at the whitny and is very much a proponent of sort of upper west side liberal, you know democratic egalitarian values you know is taking amir to task for his critique of islam. and amir in that way that
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sometimes when you have had a little too much to drink can find the trigger in the other person very quickly brings up the question of israel. and the second the matter of israel is brought up in the conversation, isaac immediately reveals his own tribal identification. and so that's something that happens to each of the characters over the course. >> rose: but that's the universal theme of the play. >> it is tribalism. well the way in which under dur es, which is increasingly where i think so many of us find ourselves in the world today we seem to find or these characters seem to have found time and again some sense of safety in their tribal identities. it seems to be something that continues to you know-- . >> rose: what would-- what would amir think about paris and what happened at "charlie hebdo"? >> that's a good question. i think he would be-- i think he would feel that 2 was fuel for his argument.
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and i think that-- i think that, you know, as an artist it's obviously not my place to sit in judgement of my characters. sometimes i get confused with amir, even though i have written 15 or 20 other major characters over four works now many of whom espoused profoundly different values and ideas than amir does. but i think that yeah i think amir would say that it was fuel for his argument. >> rose: you wrote a movie in 2005 in which you call the war within? >> yes. >> rose: and you said that that film i love the phrase the preparatory gesture. >> yes. >> rose: i --. >> i had spent a long time writing. hi a wonderful high school teacher who made me want to become a writer. everything i do is an homage to her. and one of the things that the-- the her influence on me was her passion for european modernism so i read some of of that stuff my junior and senior year of
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high school, i had this ingrained notion that writing, like a great writer was writing like a european modern. so it took me a good 15 years to come out from under that, and understand that my own subject matter or my own community, my own preoccupations as a kid, as a young adult that those were worthy subjecteds of storytelling. i was not convinced anyone would care if i was writing about where i came from. and so the woor within was really the first attempt hi just finished film school and that was the first attempt to start giving shape to the world that i knew. yeah. >> rose: what's the answer? >> to? >> rose: the questions you raise here and the conflict within islam? reasons boorl is. >> charlie you know i of course could never answer that question. >> rose: but if you were writing the next play about that where would you take it? >> i think i would continue to take the audience into
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absorb-- absorbing rich experience. >> rose: appreciatinged conflict, tribal identity. >> f scott fitzgerald once said it is the hallmark of a fine mind to be able to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time and still be able to retain the ability to function. the extent to which we can all expand our way of seeing and hold multiple opposing thoughts at the same time and still remain engaged with one another represents a real attainment. an artist, i think, can create a space that's like a practicing ground for that experience. >> rose: the play is called disgraced. ayad akhtar i will give you the information about-- it's going to be at the lyceum theater through sunday march 1st. you've got a month to get there. >> yeah. >> rose: thank you for coming. a pleasure to you have. >> the pleasure was mine. >> rose: thank you for joining us. see you next time. for more about this program and earlier episodes visit
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us on-line at pbs.org and charlierose.com captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
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report" with tyler mathisen and sue herera. tug of war. google misses. amazon breaks its losing streak and dow component visa split four for one potentially setting the tone for trading tomorrow after a triple digit gain today. flood gates are open on earnings season but things are different this time around and it could change the way you make investment decisions. mixed shame-up. meet the man who has a big task ahead of him and that would be turning around the world's largest restaurant chain. all that and more tonight on "nightly business thursday january 29th. good evening, everyone. another busy day on wall street. the busiest day of the current earnings season and after some upbeat corporate results slight gain in oil prices and good news about

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